Atheist Zombies from Hell

Scary Pumpking

There is a post over at the Center for Inquiry site, or what is left of it, to the effect it has not been taken over by “atheist fundamentalists.”


I have just seen Zombieland, so I feel pretty knowledgeable about what a takeover would mean.

Please, sit down.

Teams of craven secular atheists would come to your home demanding you turn over your Bibles, your rosaries, your virgin daughters.

I know, I know. Much easier to vouch for the Bibles.

Your only protection would be holy water, and they would break your cruets, laughing hysterically, and dribble it into your petunias

If you have stored communion crackers, whatever the reason, be ready to cough them up. These types are bloodless, hungry, merciless.

(But they have not taken over CFI. They are being held at bay south of Depew.)

Next they would march on Walmart, demanding that Halloween displays be taken down.

They will impale a store clerk on a flagpole if he resists. Force people to eat Kandykorn and Peeps. It’s hideous.

After all, Halloween is the Eve of all Saints Day on November 1st (“all hallows evening”), a religious holiday of the Catholic Church. The celebration of this holiday–trick-or-treating, gorging on sweets, lighting of jack o’ lanterns on front porches–must be discouraged: it violates the First Amendment.

But with atheists, it’s a matter of degree. It’s not whether you believe in God anymore. It’s what you’re willing to do about it.

The moderate secularists I know simply resort to pumpkin smashing. Or rounding up trick or treaters, reasoning with them, trying to make them understand that they are guilty of extortion.

“Listen, Jonquil: what you are doing is stealing in the name of religion,” I heard an atheist say to a little girl about to buy a fairy princess costume at Target last week.

“If you did the same thing on November 10th, we’d have to call the cops and throw you in jail.” The little girl, to her credit, understood perfectly and, fighting back a tear, asked her mother to buy her a 120 GB Ipod Touch instead.

The New Atheists, if they come to power, will ban the sale of straw brooms. You will not be able to buy a sack of caramels and a sack of apples in the same cart. Fairy costumes, forget it. You will only be able to dress up like Charles Darwin on his birthday and ask politely for
arthropods door to door.

CFI will not do this. They are decent types. Not into trickery, cheap shots or slurs.

They need offices and outreach to do what they do, and the suggestion that they are just a blog with an office–slanderous.

Blasphemy Day sort of symbolizes that, doesn’t it? The high ground. The intellectual cutting edge.

We can rest easy that the marauding atheist hordes will not invade our classrooms and take Johnnie’s hand off his chest just before he utters the dread words “Under God.”

Or (coming right up) storm the courthouse square to demolish a nativity scene and send the wise men packing back to Babylon.

We need to know that CFI stands up for the rights of the committed secularist, the little John Q. Public Unbeliever who thinks big thoughts, no matter what he or she believes. It’s secular America at its best.

Be on the right side of history: join CFI in its fight to send the atheist zombies back to hell.


Atheist Tantrums: The New Loud


What do you get when you cross a new atheist with a Jehovah’s Witness?
Someone who knocks on your door for no reason at all.

This will be brief. Blasphemy Day, God love it, has come and gone. Soon the giggling will stop. Dogs, horses and Episcopalians will be left wondering what the point was. The few Pentecostals who can read a newspaper will say, “See, told you so,” and head for the basement before the anti-Christ rides through town.

I was musing yesterday why, as a pretty fervent Roman Catholic in the 1960’s, I fell on the floor in paroxysms of laughter when a friend (also Catholic) played Tom Lehrer’s “Vatican Rag” for me for the first time. I still laugh when I hear it, even though most twenty-first century Catholics don’t know what a kyrie eleison is or bother to stand in line for confession. In college, a little less fervent, I knew priests (many of whom aren’t any more) who knew the song from front to back. We used to break it out on cue at Charlie’s Beef and Beer (RIP) at Harvard.

So if irreverence can be funny (and I love irreverence as much as I love Mahler) why do I think Blasphemy Day was such a fuckwitted idea?

Well for one thing, as I said in my two posts on the topic, bad art, bad jokes, and behavior designed to be stupid and offensive are seldom funny except to insiders.


A competition to see who can come up with the worst art, the worst joke, and the most self-referentially stupid behavior will have to be judged by how funny the insiders think it is.

I’m guessing the atheist insiders peed their pants. As for those standing outside the circle (those dogs, horses and Episcopalians), let the cattle judge.

An NPR story on the subject tried to link the Center for Inquiry-sponsored event to a growing rift between old school and new atheism.

If I bought the distinction, I would be expected to say that the “old atheism” as represented by ardent secularists like Paul Kurtz was warm and cuddly whereas the newer form, usually thought to be incarnate in Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris (et al.) is tactically less subtle, more aggressive, unkinder.

But I don’t buy it. The old atheism was full of cranks and angry old men, but some of them were clever. Many of them (as my grandmother used to say) knew a thing or two. The big distinction between the old and the new is that the old atheism depended on a narrative, based in philosophy, and linked itself to a long tradition of rational decision-making. Not choosing to believe in God was an act of deliberation, not a foregone conclusion. At its best, it was studious and reflective. At its worst, it was purely negative, abrasive and sometimes nihilistic.

The best form of the old atheism had a lot in common with certain theological trends, ranging from nominalism to religious realism and minimalism–the sort of stance you get from Don Cupitt’s best writings. The worst, rejectionist stream of atheism, was marked (or marred) by intolerance and a lack of table manners. It was an atheism for the unsophisticated young and the dispirited old. Wedged between were Philistines of all ages, one big unhappy family.

What’s now being called “new atheism” or atheist fundamentalism is really nothing more than the triumph of the jerks. Unsubtle, unlearned (but pretentious), unreflective (but persistent). They have heroes in super-jerks like PZ Myers (yes, the one who drives spikes through communion “crackers” as he calls them, and Korans) because

Edgy is what young people like….They want to cut through the nonsense right away and want to get to the point. They want to hear the story fast, they want it to be exciting, and they want it to be fun. And I’m sorry, the old school of atheism is really, really boring.

Did you get that: really? Presumably Mr Myers has tenure, but I for one would love to see his teaching philosophy unpacked when it comes out in book form. Students may also like it raunchy, naked, and loud. And that’s why we used to think a university was a good place to lead people out of the tribe and toward civilization. Not PZ. Give him a hammer and he’ll follow you anywhere.

Almost as bad is the point made by CFI executive Ron Lindsay who says that his “research” organization will “take the high road, the low road, country roads, interstates, highways, byways, — whatever it takes to reach people.” Sounds strangely like Jesus, except the bit about the low road.

To the extent this highways and hedges approach works, imagine the good news: “Rejoice greatly: for unto you this day is born in the City of Right Reason…absolutely Nothing.”

Here is my prophecy. The raw atheism of the raw atheists who have given us Blasphemy Day and probably have other delights in store for us is loud because they already know no one is listening, at least no one who matters.

The shrill tones of the movement have to be amplified for the same reason cinemas now have to pump up the volume to drown out the hundred private conversations that are going on during the film, person to person, cell phone to cell phone, tweet to tweet. It is shouting, pure and simple because loud wins. Stupid and loud is even better, and outrageously stupid and loud is best.

But while all this is going on, there are many who style themselves humanists and are not believers in any conventional sense who want to say, “Shut up-I’m watching the movie.” (More precisely, “Shut up, we’re trying to think.,” or maybe read. What we need is an intellectual resource for thoughtful humanists, the thoughtful seekers who don’t think it’s cool to “repent” of your baptism by having a hairdryer pointed at your head.

What I miss about the old atheism–even though I still find its central premises wobbly and unconvincing–is that thinking was permitted. The conversation continued. There was no infallible source of confidence. Skepticism reigned.

The new atheism is a catechism of conclusions reached, positions taken, dogmas pronounced. It is more like the Catholicism I giggled to see parodied, a church too sure of itself and its exclusive ability to save souls and reveal the kingdom.

A Prayer:

Oh Thou who hast no name and many…and may not even be there:

Bring back clever.

Smite with a bolt of intelligence all enemies of parody and good satire.

Bring low the self-assurance of the Brights, and unto the Dims give light.

With a stroke of your mighty pen lay waste the stupidity of your deniers and confound the certainty of your defenders.

Render mute, O heavenly Conundrum, the loudness of the gainsayers and the loudness of the speakers in tongues. Do it soon.

And do Thou, O King, or Something, of the Unseen Regions of my Brain, grant me the endurance to suffer religious fools as gladly as I suffer the Atheist. And failing that, send a scorching fire upon the earth, if it isn’t asking too much.


On the Death of the Jesus Project


Reprinted from Bible and Interpretation

With the exception of the King James Bible and Westcott and Hort, the biblical Gilbert and Sullivan of their day, New Testament scholars would be hard pressed to cite examples of “scientific” collaboration prior to the twentieth century. Most of the great works of nineteenth-century scholarship were lonely affairs, created by academic individualists with theories to sell, texts to translate, problems to solve. There were exceptions of course: 2008 marked the slightly-off centenary of the publication of Oxford Studies in the Synoptic Problem (1911), but like its predecessor and most academic conferences since, the original volume was less a collaboration than a collection of disparate, if highly interesting, opinions. Even works that might have benefited from collaboration in terms of textual discoveries and interpretation were not normally managed that way. We still regard the nineteenth century, culturally extending to the outbreak of the First World War, as the era of biblical soloists with theories ranging from the ridiculous to the plausible.

If we compare the nineteenth century situation to the trend that developed after World War II—the Qumran, Gnostic, Pseudepigrapha, and Apocrypha projects–at a macro-level the Anchor Bible, denominational biblical, encyclopedia and dictionary projects—the contrast is startling. Partly this has to do with the simple fact that new documentary discoveries and the need for more serviceable translations seemed to dictate division of labor as a way of doing business more efficiently. Partly, interest in collaboration was the effect of biblical studies professionalizing itself along the lines being developed by European, especially British and German, archaeology and philology. The model was so popular by the end of the seventies that it was widely assumed almost any task could be approached on a “project”-basis—even efforts that were ill-suited to such an approach.

In general, collaboration is suited to constructive and technical rather than interpretative or highly theoretical work. Because of the close traditional alliance between biblical studies and theology, as well as the nature of the biblical literature itself, it is notoriously hard to keep theology at bay in the realm of interpretation. Constructive work is different. Although far from perfect on a number of levels the Hennecke-Schneemelcher Neutestamenliche Apokryphen in Deutscher Ubersetzung was a pioneer work in the non-parochial study of extracanonical literature when it was first published in German, and in English translation in 1963, making the eccentric one-man collection of ghost-story writer M. R. James virtually useless. The same can be said of James Charlesworth’s editorial management in the translation of Old Testament apocrypha in relation to the 1913 collection edited by R. H. Charles and James Robinson’s production of a serviceable English edition of the Nag Hammadi materials. We owe to that generation of scholarship a way of moving beyond the legendary slings and arrows that were characteristic of the Dead Sea Scrolls “collaboration,” tactics that spawned a whole genre of intrigue and tarnished biblical studies as being theologically interested, religiously mysterious, and academically second class.

When I say that collaboration is suited to constructive work, I mean that it is justified when the nature of the investigation is clearly indicated by the nature of the task. Translations, questions of provenance, reconstructions of fragmentary materials and documentary questions, it seems to me, have produced the greatest examples of collaboration.

Questions about “What really happened?—are fundamentally unsuited to collaborative effort. This is true because Big Questions–Who Jesus really was, or What Jesus really said are far more susceptible of opinion-mongering , ideology and religious self-interest than the architectural ones.

John Crossan lamented at the mid-point of the Jesus Seminar that the project had become a Catherine Wheel of opinions with as many Jesuses as there were books about him, to the point where the effects were becoming “embarrassing.” For Crossan, who pressed hard for his own theory, the problems of the Seminar could be traced to a failure to get the methodology straight from the beginning. In fact, however, there was no methodology to get straight apart from sources that had been laboriously clarified by scholars working on a different set of issues. I have sometimes been asked why I have made no attempt to do my own reconstruction of Marcion’s Gospel; I have two answers, but the one that matters is that I have no faith in Tertullian’s memory and regard any attempt to base a reconstruction primarily on those derivatives as unreliable. That answer will dissuade (has dissuaded) no one from trying, just as the “collaboration” made possible from the Jesus Seminar turned into a cloud of witnesses to a range of historical characters named Jesus who probably (and I do not mean this in the historical sense) never existed.

All of this brings me to a difficult subject. In June 2009 the so-called Jesus Project was temporarily “suspended” by its funding organization on the verge of a conference at Stanford. Shortly thereafter I announced my decision to leave the Project–stating that sustained scholarly inquiry cannot survive a bad case of the hiccups. On-again-off-again projects are damaged by inconsistency and irregularity.

But the hiatus has given me time to consider more carefully whether the Jesus Project was ever worth the trouble. Is it a project that could have “worked” (a la Crossan) with a better developed methodology? Was it destined to survive fissiparation by the very different interests of the scholars who associated themselves with it? Could it have overcome the charge of special pleading leveled at it by scores of onlookers who regarded its sponsor, a secular humanist advocacy organization, with suspicion –though they might never have thought the same if the funds had come from a Christian agency.

And finally, and perhaps more important, Who cares? Arthur Droge of the University of Toronto made the point directly at the last meeting of the Project in December 2008, perhaps its last meeting full stop, that one should not assume that the question of the historicity of Jesus is inherently interesting. At the time, I challenged Droge’s assessment: first, because I think some questions are inherently interesting, especially the ones that yield contradictory answers. And second, because I have often made the claim that it has been largely theological interests since Strauss’s time that ruled the historicity question out of court. It seemed to me that any question concerning the biblical text should be decided on the basis of the best evidence we possess and the best interpretations we can render without wandering off course into our own enthusiasms.

With due regard to the complexity of evidence surrounding Christian origins—a subject that has been complicated, in a good way, rather than solved by the discoveries of modern scholarship—I no longer believe it is possible to answer the “historicity question. “ No quantum of material discovered since the1940’s, in the absence of canonical material would support the existence of an historical founder. No material regarded as canonical and no church doctrine built upon it in the history of the church would cause us to deny it. Whether the New Testament runs from Christ to Jesus or Jesus to Christ is not a question we can answer.

Obviously I do not deny the existence of mythic materials entwined with a more or less historical memory of a real individual. But as I have written elsewhere, we cannot point to a stratum of ancient biography where such intertwining does not exist: it is a matter of degree, not genre, and a matter of guesswork, not reconstructive surgery. The fate of the Jesus Seminar and the potential fate of the Jesus Project had it continued—or rather, had it been advisable for it to continue—reveals more about the history of guesswork than about the “reality” of Jesus. The NT documents, especially the Gospels, are precisely the sort of literature we would expect to emerge from a time when the dividing line between the natural and “supernatural,” indeed, the divine and human, was not clearly drawn: the true miracle would have been for the NT to stand completely outside the limits of Hellenistic storytelling and the rudimentary historiographical interests of a religious community.

Finally, a word about the “orientation” of participants. While I am as hermeneutically suspicious of extravagant claims for the trustworthiness of the Gospels as many of my skeptical colleagues, I regard the suggestion that the New Testament is “deceptive” as showing a lamentable ignorance about the nature of myth and the nature of history. The myth theory in its most robust form was more possible in the nineteenth century than in the late twentieth or twenty-first because we know more today about the sociology of memory and the nature of myth.

The Jesus project was announced—in fact, but somewhat irrelevantly, against my wishes—at a conference at UC Davis in 2007. It soon became famous, like Rasputin, for all the wrong reasons. Interestingly, the title of the conference, which included among many others James Robinson, James Tabor, Bruce Chilton and Philip Esler, was “Scripture and Skepticism,” a title designed to call attention to the need to avoid all forms of sensationalism (Da Vinci code style) in marketing biblical theories—a call to seriousness and sobriety.

Alas, The Jesus Project itself became a subject for exploitation: news stories, promotional material and the reactions in the blogosphere focused on the Big Question: “Scholars to Debate whether Jesus Really existed.” Given the affections of media, the only possible newsworthy outcome was assumed to be He didn’t. Such a conclusion had it ever been reached (as it would not have been reached by the majority of participants) would only have been relevant to the people April DeConnick ( a participant) has described as “mythers,” people out to prove through consensus with each other a conclusion they cannot establish through evidence. The first sign of possible trouble came when I was asked by one such “myther” whether we might not start a “Jesus Myth” section of the project devoted exclusively to those who were committed to the thesis that Jesus never existed. I am not sure what “committed to a thesis” entails, but it does not imply the sort of skepticism that the myth theory itself invites.

Do I regard the Project as worth pursuing, reviving? I think the historicity question, as I have said many times over, is an interesting one. But it is not a question that in the absence of a “real” archeological or textual discovery of indubitable quality can be answered. It cannot be answered directly and perhaps not even through the slow accumulation of new sources. The issue is not merely that such a discovery would not persuade die-hard mythers and would not support believers in the divine Christ. It is that such evidence is really not an academic possibility. Not even the unearthing of an unknown archive of the forced and sworn confession of a skilled forger and tale-teller by the name of Rufus, appearing in front of a magistrate in the year 68 CE, would suffice. We already possess material like that, it is forged.

But the chief reason that it is time to sound the knell for all such projects is that that they cannot function collaboratively, both by virtue of what they want to achieve—that is, the over-speculative nature of the task—and because they are examples of the perils of false collaboration: an incoherent anthology of opinion derived from the private prejudices and objectives of Jesus-makers.

And on the Eighth Day, God Created Scholars


And on the ninth, colleges to keep them away from others.

Update: A better Hebraist than I ever was or will ever be has called my attention to the panoply of uses by the author of Isa. 45. 12-18, where bara’is used alongside other verbs meaning collectively to refine, shape or complete: asah (made); bara’ (fashioned); nata (stretched), yasar (fashioned), kun (founded), and sawah (brought together). The difficulty is in finding a use of the verb to refer specifically to the act of separating as an aspect of fashioning. Here is the text from Isaiah:

12 I created the world
and covered it with people;
I stretched out the sky
and filled it with stars.
13I have done the right thing
by placing Cyrus in power,
and I will make the roads easy
for him to follow.
I am the LORD All-Powerful!
Cyrus will rebuild my city
and set my people free
without being paid a thing.
I, the LORD, have spoken.
The LORD Alone Can Save
14My people, I, the LORD, promise
that the riches of Egypt
and the treasures of Ethiopia will belong to you.
You will force into slavery
those tall people of Seba. They will bow down and say,
“The only true God is with you;
there are no other gods.”
15People of Israel,
your God is a mystery,
though he alone can save.
16Anyone who makes idols
will be confused
and terribly disgraced.
17But Israel, I, the LORD,
will always keep you safe
and free from shame.
18The LORD alone is God!
He created the heavens
and made a world
where people can live,
instead of creating
an empty desert.


There is a buzz about a discovery by a certain Ellen van Wolde who is a professor of Old Testament in the Netherlands. It focuses on Genesis chapters 1-3, the most overworked piece of mythology in the world.

That is precisely why any claim to have “discovered” anything previously unknown about any verse of the book called Genesis (in Greek: the Beginning) should be treated with extreme skepticism. I humbly offer my services.

Van Wolde claims she has carried out “fresh textual analysis” that proves it was not the writer’s intention to say that God actually created the cosmos.

One review touts, “The writers of the great book never intended to suggest that God created the world — and in fact the Earth was already there when he created humans and animals.” Er, well…yes. That’s what it says alright, and unless she has just read the book for the first time, the discovery she claims to have made looks a little shy of an exegetical breakthrough.

Van Wolde claims she has “re-analyzed the original Hebrew text” and placed it in the context of the Bible as a whole, and in the context of other creation stories from ancient Mesopotamia.”

She said she eventually concluded the Hebrew verb “bara“, which is used in the first sentence of the book of Genesis, does not mean “to create” but to “spatially separate.”

According to her, Genesis 1.1 is not a “creation” story at all but a story about God separating the heaven and the earth–both being in the cosmic room, so to speak, when the roll was called. Think of God as a cotton gin, sort of, or a French chef who knows his way around eggs.

I don’t envy her chances when she presents her “discovery” to a room of Hebrew Bible experts in a few weeks.

In fact, if I had been privileged to sit on her thesis committee I would have said she should really go back to the drawing board because what she has uncovered is merely the peculiarity of a verb that has vexed philologists and translators for a very long time. A short list of eminent Hebraists who have played with the syntax includes Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Ewald, Dillmann, Humbert, Skinner, Speiser, Francis Andersen and Robert Alter. Probably also the translators of the King James Bible.

The choice to translate bara as “separate” misses the point about what “separation” means in the material culture of the period. The suggestion that her find makes: “the traditional view of God the Creator…untenable now” seems a little…extravagant.

Scholars of the ancient Near East have known for more than a century that other ancient creation stories assume the pre-existence of material things–water, mud, light, primal seas, monsters, fogs and abysses to name a few.

The most famous of these, the Enuma Elish, and the Atrahasic epic make similar assumptions about “pre-existing” matter. Creation is not a question of creation ex nihilo in the ancient Near East but the act of organizing what already exists.

Everybody knows that.

Christians and Jews did not begin to talk about the biblical text as an instance of “something from nothing” until speculative theology began to squeeze the poetry out of the ancient narrative.

Van Wolde’s argument is really with the church fathers and later writers rather than with the Bible. And with deference to a few others who have already commented on her claims, creation ex nihilo is not the same as what they are calling creation by divine fiat. Kings in antiquity create (cause to happen by divine command), but the wherewithal to execute their commands is already there for the taking.

God in Genesis is behaving like a king, not like a magician.

But even if she is wrong about the “newness” of her attempt to locate the biblical narrative in the context of other Near Eastern poetry where “separation” of organized mass from disorganized (usually watery) chaos is the rule (I am literally unaware of even one reputable Old Testament scholar who does not know this pattern), is she right about having cracked a linguistic enigma?

Da Vinci Code time.

Probably not. A former research associate to Umberto Eco who liked mystery and intrigue as much as the next writer, van Wolde seems simply confused about the syntax.

J. Hobbins over at Ancient Hebrew Poetry has already recounted her confusion concerning the reworking of Gen 1.1. His main point is that the act of separating and the act of making are basically the same whether the author is thinking of creation by divine fiat (“Let there be light!” when light may be there for the taking) or not.

The ancient poets were working with human models and patterns of kingship. A strong but somewhat troublous king like Gilgamesh achieved his reputation not by making bricks (they were there already) but by causing a wall to be built around his city of Uruk.

The God of Genesis works in the same way: he brings something about as a fashioner of materials that prove his organizational skills. Not something out of nothing. Something out of a mess of possibilities.

Hobbins cites the New English Bible as an example of how a good English translation can clear up some of the confusion: creation is a process (and, by the way, God is not actually called “creator” but the one who instigates a process): The temporal framework is so vague, despite the writer’s use of “days” to separate phases of the process, that even Augustine wondered what existed before there was something to exist:

In the beginning of creation,
when God made heaven and earth,
the earth was without form and void,
with darkness over the face of the abyss,
and a mighty wind that swept over the surface of the waters.
God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light.

It’s a nice touch because it separates (that word again) the process of creation from the making that brings it all together–which clearly is the writer’s intention.

But also: it is pretty clearly the writer’s intention to show God as architect-in-chief, designer, and completer. Not sure what to do about the most troubling bit of Genesis 1, the creation of man in God’s image since we can’t precisely be sure what image the writer was working with.

But in part this was solved by the (different) author of Genesis 2.6ff., where God uses water and dirt to form clay and “fashions” Adam from the mixture. In other words, like most ancient cultures, when asked how they began, the answer of the Hebrew writer was “We came from the ground.” or “we sprang from seed.”

The meaning is, We have been here a very long time. From the beginning.

It’s high time someone stopped defending this sort of crass sensationalism as “revolutionary” and called it what it is: Unoriginal.

In the long run, it may be less van Wolde’s fault for trying to sell this reading as revolutionary than the media’s for buying, or at least for not asking a half-dozen biblical professionals what they think about her claim.beresgeet

A Post-Secular Humanist Manifesto


We believe that secular humanism is dead.

We believe that secular humanism now means so many different things that it has ceased to mean anything at all.

We believe that secular humanism does not represent a coherent philosophy or life-stance but a patchwork of ideas that are no longer revolutionary and meaningful and will not coalesce in the future.

We believe that organized humanism and the humanist movement have lost their way in a labyrinth of special causes, pleadings and agendas; that secular humanism is now a clash of competing liberal doctrines, lifestyles and agendas forced into conformity without sufficient examination, and that reasonable people will look elsewhere for intellectual energy, political resolution, and ideological support.

We believe that the close identification of humanism with secularism, free-thought and atheism was a collusion of opposites, limiting the breadth of the humanist spirit, denying the contribution of religion, theology and spirituality to modern culture, minimizing the intellectual continuity between past and present, and discounting the evolutionary nature of ideas and ideologies.

We believe that secular humanism does not provide new or carefully reasoned warrants for its own commitments—to “naturalism,” “science,” the use of “reason,” and ethical values based on these commitments–and that neither as an ideology nor as a movement has it made concrete contributions to the areas it claims to promote. Neither science nor ethics, it has been committed to a program of abstraction, pseudo-scholarship and polemic, a cause without consequences.

We believe that secular humanism’s narrow focus on the evils of religion, the paranormal, and anti-supernaturalism has become quaint, backward, isolated from modern discussions of belief, entrenched in archaic debates unworthy of serious intellectual discussion.

We believe that secular humanism’s use of “skepticism” to debunk superstition, the eccentric and the irrational has trivialized philosophical skepticism and that its assault on credulity has been derisive rather than informative.

We believe that secular humanism provides no coherent system of values and ethics: that its social philosophy depends on a relativism it mocks and that its call for a global ethic is rooted in an antiquated view of the world and its cultures.

We believe that secular humanism’s hostility to all religion is indistinguishable from a religious hostility to all forms of unbelief.

We reject, as humanists, the belief that our way of knowing about the physical and moral world can be reduced to naturalism and science; as skeptics, that atheism is a priori the sensible position of the reasonable man or woman.

We reject the idea of a single operating system for the humanist tradition in the arts and sciences.

We believe that secularism is not an irresistible trend in culture but a pattern of detachment from the control of dogma that was the fruit of modernity. We see this process continuing in terms constantly being reshaped by believers and unbelievers.

We believe that intelligent men and women of religious faith have been at the forefront of efforts to limit the dominance of religion, to insist on human rights and freedom of expression, and the separation of religion and civil government.

We believe this as a matter of a history that stretches back to the Renaissance, and not as matter of corporate ideology.

We believe that an authentic humanism is neither “religious” nor “secular” but an engagement with the highest achievements of human civilization in the arts and sciences measured by their effect on the human spirit and human values.

We believe that human beings are value-making creatures and that humanism at its most generous is the discussion of the grounds for human action, the warrants for human assent, and the propagation of ideas and objects that are worthy of our best instincts and aspirations.

We believe that moral positions are justified not solely on the basis of the rational decisions of individuals but are responsible to history, culture, and society.

We believe that men and women of virtue and intelligence have been atheists. We believe that women and men of virtue and intelligence have believed in God.

We believe that the contemporary world is not defined by a confrontation between believers and unbelievers.

Please feel free to comment on this post or suggest constructive changes. It is a work in progress, not a finished product.